Impending Expiration of Coal Wage Contracts
Present wage contracts in the bituminous coal fields will expire Mar. 31, 1945. The wage scale policy committee of the United Mine Workers will meet Feb. 26 to formulate the union's demands. The ensuing negotiations for a new wage contract will afford opportunity for joint consideration by representatives of the union and the operators of the situation that will confront the bituminous industry when the war comes to an end.
Under the leadership of John L. Lewis, the United Mine Workers have extended the union shop during recent years to every coal mine in the country. On the surface, the union would appear to be in a stronger position to enforce its demands than ever before. Lewis regards the no-strike pledge as “not necessarily binding” upon the U. M. W.; he allowed four industry-wide stoppages to take place during 1943. One result of the failure to reach a prompt agreement on a new wage contract in 1943 was adoption by Congress of the Smith-Connally War Labor Disputes Act. Under that act the President holds authority to take the mines over for government operation in case of a threatened interruption to the flow of coal for war industries.
With the war at a critical stage, and both operators and miners anxious to obtain favorable action by Congress on legislation to stabilize production, prices and wages in the bituminous industry after the cessation of hostilities, it is believed that an earnest effort will be made on both sides to reach a satisfactory agreement through collective bargaining. Since the new contract signed in 1945 will probably extend beyond the close of the war, the organized miners are expected to lay principal stress upon job protections and maintenance of present “take-home” pay during the period of reconversion, rather than a new boost in basic wage rates. The operators, on their part, will be loath to grant concessions which would further increase their costs of production and thus hamper bituminous in its competition with other sources of heat and power when markets return to normal.